10/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's A Boy's Life: Barack vs. the Bully Brigade, Part 2

Yesterday we talked about the Bully Brigade, aka the Republican Party. Well today, Barack Obama is really being tested. The hateful, lying sex-ed wedge ad by the McCain campaign represents the lowest point (and most racially coded imagery) yet attempted by Team McThug. As colleagues here at HuffPo have written, it is the "Willie Horton moment" of this Republican smear campaign. This is the Big Bully baring the shiv.

Your kid or mine might react in a lot of ways to the prodding and taunting of the thugs at school. And that reaction would not have far-reaching consequences for the future of human kind. But how Obama chooses to deal with the mean kids currently stealing his lunch money and calling him names will. So we all have a stake in this schoolyard drama playing out across the blogs, TV and tabloids.

The narrative of this election needs to change -- like yesterday -- and everybody loves a good "Beat the Bullies" story. So get pissed, Barack!

As a kid, I used to get mugged a lot. Beat up too. Made fun of? You bet. And truth be told, I never really made the rite of passage where I hit back, won the fight, earned the respect. Instead, I used words, and I sharpened them like weapons. I got pretty good at finding ways to hurt the people who were ruining my life.

And I kept right on getting my butt kicked. So I have no Beat the Bullies story to offer, and I have to live with that.

I now have a son. And I think about how he will respond when he's called out by some insecure jerk who doesn't know how to play nice. I hope he'll be able to be that vaunted man of peace who also knows how to kick ass when cornered.

OK, so he's eight months old, but in this mean old world it's never too early to start worrying about these things.

Well, I'm worried about Barack Obama in exactly that same way. And while I would hate to conflate my own failure to rise to the fight as a child with Obama's challenge today, I'm going to anyway. Because the Republicans are only capable of running one kind of campaign: smear-heavy, mean, and gutter-nasty.

What this schoolyard needs is a kid who sees through that façade. A child of peace who can morph quickly into the biggest badass on the playground, win everyone over to him with a display of righteous violence, then turn, holster his weapon and walk into the sunset. It's the great American archetype (and very electable): A good man, pushed too far.

This is the scenario I played in my head in grade school (yes, I stayed up late watching Kung Fu on TV, Grasshopper). But I never could make it work out that way in the locker room, where I pushed back and was then swiftly pummeled to the floor by a gang of three bigger boys. Or on the basketball court, where I threw the ball back at someone who threw it at me, only to have them throw it 100 miles an hour into my face, bloodying my nose and sending me crying to the school nurse. So much for my David Carradine moment.

Luckily I have a few years to figure out how to guide my son through those awful scenarios. But today, most urgently, I'm determined not to let Barack Obama relive that kind of infamy and shame. The kind that consigned Michael Dukakis, a decent man, to a lifetime of wondering "What if.... What if I'd told Bernard Shaw to shove it when he opened the presidential debate, on national TV for crying out loud, with the words 'Kitty Dukakis is raped and killed.'" What indeed, if Dukakis had physically charged Shaw, rabid with rage, and had to be restrained by members of the League of Women Voters? In this country, he probably would have vaulted 20 points in the daily tracking polls.

But Democrats should know this is the walk home from school, laden with assholes laying in wait. This is the route. It's not gonna change anytime soon, and here's why: As long as the Republicans keep hammering out party platforms for the uber-rich, that could only muster 10 percent of the popular vote on the merits, they will have to bully and lie, cheat and fight dirty. The Republican strategy, even before Rove, is: bully your way from 10 percent to 49 percent; then steal the 1.1 percent remaining to put you over the top. It's worked three times in a row, aided and abetted by Katherine Harris, Kenneth Blackwell and the highest court in the land.

But we should never let it get that far - and the key is turning around that "bully your way to 49 percent" part. It's just that Dukakis and Gore and especially John Kerry were too much like me: they never learned how to fight back in that moment of truth. I cringed watching them blow their leads, because in some way it was like watching myself.

Well now school's in session and our brilliant little brother, our precious kid Barry O, is taking that long walk home at dusk, bullies lurking in every doorway. He must not suffer that same schoolyard fate.

Punch back, baby. Do it for every kid that ever had to stand down a bunch of jerks. When your attackers, who deserve no quarter, are left dazed and bloody, you can be calm and say you regret it came to that. But you were just a boy like me, Barack, and they goddamn well pushed you too far.